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Senator Bacik speaking on the Waste of Public Moneys and the National Treatment Purchase Fund

27 November 2008

Order of Business

Senator Ivana Bacik: I support Senator Twomey's call for a debate on legislation to provide a regulatory framework for assisted human reproduction and in particular in vitro fertilisation, which is long overdue. A former Member of this House, Dr. Mary Henry, was very active in trying to get the matter placed on the Government agenda. I call on the Leader to have that debate as a matter of urgency.

I ask the Leader to invite the Minister for Health and Children to the House to discuss a particular issue regarding the waste of public moneys. As we are debating reform of the public service and issues of waste in the public finance, one report slipped somewhat under the radar last week. That was a report by the Dáil's Committee of Public Accounts, which was highlighted in an article by Fintan O'Toole in Tuesday's edition of The Irish Times. That committee reported on an outrageous waste of public money in the health service. As one of its key points, the report highlighted the direct subsidy that goes from the public health system to the private health insurance market. In 2006 almost 25% of public hospital beds were occupied by private patients, but the HSE recovered just 7% of the cost of running hospitals from the insurance companies, showing a marked subsidy from the public purse for the private insurance sector.

A point that stood out as scandalous and that needs to be addressed by the Minister in the House is the report's exposure of the State paying publicly contracted consultants private fees to treat their public patients, in some cases even in public hospitals. I am talking about the National Treatment Purchase Fund. I did not understand that fund was designed to enable the payment of consultants working in Irish hospitals to treat patients who were already on their own public waiting lists and enabling the patients to jump the queue in that way. Staggeringly the National Treatment Purchase Fund paid for 1,774 patients who were treated in public hospitals. This should be a matter of major concern to all of us on both sides of this House at a time when the public purse is so straitened. When we are all looking at ways to make savings, this is an obvious way to do so.

The health service has been scandalously badly run. We have seen dreadful things like the cancellation of the roll-out of the cervical cancer vaccination scheme, while at the same time there is this ongoing wastage which should be cured and at the very least debated in this House. I call on the Leader to bring in the Minister for Health and Children to answer questions.